Planning for Tomorrow’s EV Adoption Begins Today

Episode ID S2E04
April 27, 2022

Around 15,000 fully electric or hybrid electric vehicles were traveling American roads in 2011; today that number exceeds 2 million and is accelerating rapidly. But is the U.S. power grid ready to meet the expanding charging needs? In this episode, CoBank’s Teri Viswanath and Tamra Reynolds are joined by a cast of experts to discuss the state of EV readiness in the U.S. Guests include Brian Sloboda of NRECA; Scott Hammond of Central Electric Power Cooperative and Peter Muhoro with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative. Listen to their discussion for insights from a variety of perspectives. 


Teri Viswanath: In 2011, about 15,000 battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles were traveling U.S. roads. As of last year, there were more than two million of these vehicles. This is still about 1% of the American fleet, but the pace of adoption is accelerating. The big question is, can the U.S. power grid meet the growing charging requirements of all those new EVs? Welcome to Power Plays. I'm Teri Viswanath, your host, and lead economist for power, energy, and water at CoBank. I'm going to tackle the topic of co-op EV preparedness with my co-host and CoBank managing director, Tamra Reynolds. Hello, Tamra.

Tamra Reynolds: Hey, Teri. At the NRECA TechAdvantage conference that took place in March, we sat down with co-op thought leaders to understand how they're preparing for a future with electric vehicles. The conversation spanned forecasting member adoption rates, to member engagement, to electric rate programs. We had a great lineup for this discussion, enlisting the help of Brian Sloboda, director of consumer solutions with NRECA; Scott Hammond, member programs manager at Central Electric Power Cooperative, a G&T headquartered in South Carolina; and Peter Muhoro, the chief strategy, technology, and innovation officer with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, a large distribution co-op in Virginia.

Teri: This conversation at TechAdvantage was a really good example of living our cooperative principles, working together through national and regional structures to improve services, and deal more effectively with member and community needs. There were two critical elements of our discussion. How do we plan for a future of greater EV adoption? And what should membership engagement look like? We're going to begin our discussion on planning.

Teri: One of the most disruptive appliances in your home soon to be is going to be an electric vehicle. I had a lot of conversations around electric vehicles today. Now, we really want to get in the weeds and talk a little bit of, "How do we plan about this electric future?" I'd like to kick it off. Scott, I want to hear a little bit more about the planning effort you're doing with your electric distribution members and how you think about the future and the future of electric mobility.

Scott Hammond: Yes, certainly. Over about the last year and a half, we have been working with our members, our 20 member cooperatives in South Carolina, and also partnering with NRECA and UC Davis to look at an EV forecasting tool that starts to predict what EVs look like out on our system, out in the short term and long term, and allows us to start understanding what those EV penetration is going to look like.

If you look at a map of South Carolina, not unsurprising that a lot of the population density that we have in our co-ops is growing on the coast as people love to come to our beaches. You can start to see with this tool, it takes into account where the population is moving and the folks that are able to afford these types of vehicles taking publicly available data, DMV data, those kinds of things. I really think it's going to be powerful for us to continue tweaking and updating that as the Ford trucks and those kinds of things start to come out and really looking at it from that perspective.

Teri: Fantastic, so planning with your electric distribution members and understanding what the trends are. Brian, I know you spoke with Dr. Gil Tal, who is from UC Davis, and the connected work. I would like to hear a little bit. If you could give us a quick rundown of some of the discussion you guys had today in your breakout, specifically on charging for the folks that might've missed it.

Brian Sloboda: Yes, thanks, Teri. Now, really, what we're looking at NRECA starts with planning, and planning how that EV adoption is going to happen. That's why we work with Scott and also another G&T, ODEC. We did with UC Davis, as Scott described, that mapping projection for South Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware. This year, we're going to be doing it for Virginia.

Also, what we're doing is looking at some potential scenarios by rolling out later this year, an EV segmentation tool. What we're going to do is work with a couple of co-ops and this is going to be an experimental project. Work with a couple of co-ops, survey the members, find out, "What type of car do you drive today? How old is it? When do you plan on buying your next car? What make, model, and body style are you going to buy?"

Notice, I did not ask if you're going to buy an EV. If I know the make, model, body style, if I know your age, your education, your income, I can start to predict if you're going to buy the electric version of that vehicle or if you're going to buy the gas version of that vehicle. The more that we know about your tendencies towards brand loyalty for make and model but also body style because the reality is Tesla sells more EVs than anyone else, but that's an early adopter market.

Those are folks that really like technology. Those aren't necessarily car people. What you're going to see with the Ford Lightning is because of the way that they've created the lineup, this great mix of work trucks and the high-end trucks like the King Ranch and Raptor-type products that Ford has. You're going to hit multiple markets with the Ford market that isn't hit by today's Teslas or some other folks, plus it is a pickup truck. If you need a pickup truck and you're going to go Lightning, you're going to go Chevy, Tesla is not an option.

Teri: Yes, exactly. Peter, let's talk a little bit about when you think about planning for community adoption, this is a big problem. How are you approaching it?

Peter Muhoro: Let me begin by painting a picture of Rappahannock. We're a large distribution co-op in the Commonwealth of Virginia, over 170,000 meters. We cross four major interstates. I-95, 81, 66, and 64. That's important to understand where transportation and as we think of charging. That's the first picture to paint. Now, we also have a very vast, very wide territory.

We go all the way to the mountains, the Blue Ridge Mountains down to the Chesapeake Bay. We have 18,000 miles of line, so that creates some interesting complexities. When you think about your planning and your design, you ask yourself, "How are you designing?" I'm a physicist, so I'll go there a little bit. If you think of designing one home on a feeder line that's really far out, you're most likely going to put a 15 kVA transformer.

Now, Brian talked about Level 1 and Level 2. Level 2 charging is a 7.2-kilowatt charger. That's half that transformer, right? If I had a second EV, guess what? I've already overloaded that transformer. I haven't talked about anything else in the house, by the way. I was just talking about the charger alone. The planning is important in the way you look at how you design your system and asking yourself, "Do I plan and design for what I know today going into predicting where the cars are going to go, or do I plan and design and oversize my system for what I know is going to happen?"

We began looking at all our transformers. First of all, baseline. This is a transformer and this is the accounts that are on that transformer. On a hot day in the summertime, what does that look like? On a cold day in the wintertime, what does that look like? Because we could peak in both, and then I say, "Okay, what if I add one electric vehicle to that home? What does that do in the summertime and in the wintertime? If I add two, what does it do?"

All of a sudden, now, for every node on my system, I know the level of impact I'm going to have. That's where the planning becomes important because, now, once I know that, I can go into predictive analysis and say, "Well, I know we're going to see more cars in this area." I'm going to look and see, "Okay, how are the transformers in this area? Can our grid realistically handle it?"

Teri: When we think about the predictive model, it depends on, are you part of a transportation corridor? Big story we have is, do you have vacationers, vacation homes? Are there public charging facilities and what does it look like and how do you think about it?

Peter: Well, let me even add onto this. I mentioned four highways. Think about the person driving through a territory at 4:00 PM, when we're most likely beginning to peak. They're not a member.

Teri: Right.

Peter: They plug into charge. When we're having to purchase power at a high cost, guess who's paying for that? It's our members. The planning becomes important to know where those corridors are and how to even make sure that you create the right model that that person necessarily is not benefiting on the backs of our members.

Tamra: We’ll be right back.

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Tamra: Welcome back. Teri, as member adoption picks up, co-ops need to understand just how much power supply will be required to charge a growing fleet of EVs and, most importantly, where and when that charging will occur. Studies measuring the impact of mass EV adoption on the bulk, U.S. electric power system suggests that recent trends and investment will help ensure that our country's generation portfolio will be adequate to support U.S. electric mobility transition. It's far from clear whether the U.S. distribution system or the point of charge is equally prepared to deliver an additional 30% more electricity.

Teri: That's right. Distribution systems are going to be relied upon to meet electrification-driven growth. While spending between generation and delivery is now considerably more balanced compared to maybe a decade earlier, still greater attention will have to be paid to the last mile in order to meet these new requirements.

Tamra: The pain points encountered at the distribution level will depend on the existing system design, driver makeup, and the location and type of charging required. As Peter points out, it all starts with doing the blocking and tackling work of understanding what system performance will look like at the transformer level.

Teri: There's this really great if probably a little somewhat dated Department of Energy graphic that I like to use in our co-op discussions. It shows electric furnaces pulling somewhere in the order of 10 to 15 kW, a basic Level 2 charger drawing a little over 7 kW, a water heater, maybe 4.5, et cetera. Well, if Ford offers the Ford-connected charge station, it's a 48-amp charging station that'll be hardwired on a dedicated 60-amp circuit. It can deliver 11.3 kW. Out of the gate, we're seeing a very significant step-up in load. This charger alone might be the largest electricity draw in your house.

Tamra: I think that the biggest challenge ahead will be dealing with not just how much electricity new vehicles are using but when they're actually using it.

Teri: Quite a bit of the discussion in Nashville revolved around this idea that co-op's role as a trusted energy advisor was going to require tackling new areas of member engagement. We're living through an era that is witnessing dramatic acceleration in the pace of technology adoption. Let's hear what our guests have to say about this.

Teri: Let's get to the money conversation. We mentioned if you're going to incent folks to charge when you need them to charge, it's going to be about the money. All right. Some of the programs have shown a 2:1 rate tends to be influential. I'd be influenced if I was going to get charged double when I shouldn't be charging. 2:1 seems to be interesting. Some pilot programs have been rolled out where we have all you can eat. It's a one-rate.

Peter: Sure, so let me paint the picture. I drive electric. I've put 22,000 miles on my car. I've spent about 7,000 kilowatt-hours. That's what I've consumed. Just to do the math easy, 10¢ a kilowatt-hour, that's $700 to drive 22,000 miles. I probably do not care how much electricity costs. I just want it charged.

Teri: It's a good point, and even now. Last week, you paid $3.60 at the pump. This week, you're paying $4.06. There's a place in California, you can pay $6.99 a gallon, okay? You're right. When we take a look at the difference, it's already saving. It's the matter of how much savings, so is that a problem?

Peter: Does a consumer really care for any incentive necessarily? No. Someone will go into a public charger and pay 30¢ a kilowatt-hour and not feel the pinch because the dynamics are different. Consumer behavioral education is critical to really help them understand the impact of this. I want to say that I'm not sure the incentive necessarily will be the thing, but I think a more seamless way of charging becomes the best thing. That's where we go into if I just pay $20 a month. Let's talk about cell phones. Who thinks about your cell phone minutes anymore? No one does. You just pay the same amount every month.

Teri: That's right.

Peter: All you hope is that you don't hit that 22 gigabits where they throttle your phone, right? That's the reality of it. Ultimately, I think it will come down to what is the most seamless, easiest thing? I will contend to say, the opportunity probably exists where you as the utility, you as a co-op, for one fee, it's their charging, it's their maintenance of the charger, all in, and that's it. The consumer will say, "Thank you. I am paying $20 a month to drive my car," and that's it. If a consumer hears that and you let them know, "Please charge during this time. We're going to manage it," most people will probably be fine with that.

Teri: It's also interesting. If I'm going to pay a flat rate of $20 a month and I'm in your co-op area, do you care if I'm charging it in my garage? Does it change the complexity or I'm charging it at my Costco?

Peter: That's the beauty of it. I shouldn't care.

Teri: That's really exciting. Take that headache away, which is a really exciting model. It's interesting. I think one of the programs that, Brian, you had mentioned is you call this white-glove installation at the home, right? Why was that important?

Brian: I think this white-glove program and the real quick description of this is very similar to what Ford is doing, where Ford has a contractor go out, install the charger, take care of everything soup to nuts, make it a seamless, painless process for the customer. There are a couple of utilities rolling out programs like this. There's a couple of companies out there that specialize in this. You want to take the pain out.

The reason this becomes important is it helps to cement your role as trusted energy provider. It also is really exciting because if you think about this for a second, we're not really talking about cars. Well, we are talking about cars, but what we're talking about really is the first technology in 80 years that uses electricity that people actually get excited about. This is an opportunity to be engaging and to look for other values of benefit for both the co-op and the consumer.

I think Level 1 is a great way for a lot of people to charge, but it ultimately comes down to what value does the consumer see. If I buy a Ford Lightning and I use Level 1 charging, I am missing out on tremendous value of that vehicle. I can't do backup power to my house. I got to do Level 2. If I'm buying a Nissan LEAF, I might be able to do that. If I'm buying a Chevy Bolt, I'm going Level 1 all day long. It's electric. It's easy-peasy, saves me money, makes it easy, easy for the utility. We got to understand what everyone values as we're planning. It's planning, planning, planning.

Peter: If you think you said something that's critical, you become a trusted energy advisor. We get two kinds of calls. When are my lights going to be back on and why is my bill too high? When we think of the future of power and we think of where power is going, ultimately, it comes down to that relationship, and who you as the utility, you as a cooperative, and the relationship you have with your member. Here's an opportunity that we cannot miss because, guess what? If someone else is doing it, then we're just going to be playing. We're just going to keep getting those two calls. Guess what? They get old pretty quick.

Brian: You know what? This is not just residential. This is your commercial member. These are your school accounts. Just real quick story. A co-op contacted me a few months ago. They serve a large bourbon distillery in Kentucky. That distillery, it's a $10 billion-a-year company. That distillery wanted to buy an electric truck, a Class 8 tractor-trailer. They went to their supplier. Their supplier said, "No, we will not sell you a truck. All of our trucks go to California. You're in Kentucky. Tough luck." This $10 billion distillery contacted their co-op and said, "Where can we buy an electric truck?"

$10 billion company went to the co-op, "Where can I buy an electric truck?" That co-op was able to deliver to their member a list of every salesperson in the United States selling Class 8 electric trucks, telephone number, and email address. The distillery was so happy. They had the co-op sit with them at the same table during the contract negotiations with that truck supplier so that the co-op is able to provide adequate service. That right there is a trusted energy provider when a $10 billion company is coming to you to buy the $500,000 truck.

Teri: I think that's a really great story.

Tamra: I was actually present at the TechAdvantage exhibit hall where this conversation took place. Together, both meetings had over 8,000 people registered and in attendance. I love the example Brian gave on how a distribution co-op in Kentucky helped source a Class 8 electric delivery truck for one of their commercial distillery customers. The most expensive purchase most consumers make outside of probably a home purchase will be on buying a vehicle. If our co-ops can engage members in a meaningful way about their choice to adopt an electric vehicle, that could be really important.

Teri: At the co-op Beacon breakfast you helped organize in Nashville, you invited one of our co-ops to talk about their community electric school bus experience. That was a really great story about member engagement.

Tamra: Right, Teri. That was Shawn Walling with Lewis County REC in Missouri, who talked about having a go-getter superintendent in one of their local school districts that was all for acquiring an electric school bus. The co-op in that case really proved instrumental in helping bring this idea to fruition. By using that bus as part of a vehicle-to-grid resource, there are important financial benefits for the community too.

Teri: We couldn't have gathered a better group to discuss planning and engagement. A big thanks to Scott, Brian, and Peter for their participation in our program today. I hope all of you enjoyed that discussion. Please, listen in next month when we change gears up and we talk a little bit about broadband.

Tamra: This is going to be a great program. Broadband is often talked about as today's version of the rural electrification movement that happened in the 1930s. It's key for closing the digital divide in rural America. We're going to explore the progress being made with three major consultants in this space. I hope you tune in for that program. See you later.

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